navigating the normal



The Queen City

Charlotte, North Carolina
When taking a daytrip most people think to get out the city of Charlotte and head to the great outdoors of Asheville. Because I do things a little differently, I’ve been taking day trips to Charlotte over the past few months–to get out of town, to see shows, to meet up with the bestie. Charlotte certainly isn’t anywhere I want to live–ever. But it certainly has its fair share of food, drink, and entertainment. It is a quick two hours down the mountain, and like a pig on the truffle hunt, I can root out the places worth spending your money and time.

The first lesson you learn when trying to hike in one of the flattest areas of the state is that CrowdERs is crowdED. And of course it is! It’s the closest state park to the largest metropolitan area in North Carolina. It’s a touch uphill climb to the summit of Crowders Mountain State Park. Once you summit, you can start making your way down and through the miles of other trails in the park. Here’s a useful hiking analogy: state park hiking is to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom as national park hiking is to an actual African safari. All danger and surprise and hard work has been removed from state park hiking, but it’s still there and it still exists to appreciate the real thing and offer something to those who don’t have the ability or desire to do the real thing. Regardless of its complexity (or lack thereof), I enjoyed the views of the Charlotte sky line. And all the green. I’m so happy all the green is back. Welcome to summer!

Crowder’s Mountain State Park is an excellent place to be outside. The trails and trailheads are marked well. You can craft your own path to go as short or as long as you would like.

During my colder-months venture when hiking wasn’t an appealing option, Ikea was my method of steps accumulation. I hate shopping. Except at Ikea. We used to trip it five hours to the Woodbridge Ikea before it finally came to Charlotte seven years ago. So a two hour drive to hang out at Ikea for a minimum of three hours ain’t bad.

Beyond hiking around a mountain and a massive Swedish retailer, there’s plenty to eat and drink in the Queen City. My favorite places I found to drink were Birdsong Brewing Company and Bulldog Beer and Wine. The beer, the outdoor space, and the barrels of peanuts at Birdsong won me over. It really doesn’t take much more than those three elements for me to call a brewery a success. Bulldog was a little divey with cornhole (ugh), darts (yay!), popcorn (hell yes), and Foothills Jade. They also had a Ballast Pointe (I heart San Diego beers) Mango IPA.

I did not enjoy The Olde Mecklenberg Brewery. It’s not my scene, and I didn’t like the beer. They had no pale ales or IPAs. The closest they came was a pilsener. It wasn’t even a good pilsener. The place had a good outdoor space, but it was full. If Crowders Mountain is the Disney World of parks, then Olde Meck is the Ghost Town in the Sky of breweries.

A quick rundown of the food and a note about paying it forward. The salted caramel brownie at Amelie’s is decadent and delicious. It’s open 24 hours, which is the best part. Late dessert is the best dessert. The Common Market was a great place to chill with a beer and a sandwich–regardless of the Bernie stickers peppered everywhere. Perhaps they’ll change them out to Hillary soon. Little Spoon was just alright. They served their coffee in bowls and their bacon tasted more like pork chops than bacon. It was too expensive, and the cinnamon toast I make at home was leaps and bounds better.

After my hike at Crowders, I headed to Price’s Chicken Coop. Fried chicken. Potato rounds. Cole slaw. Hush puppies. Merita roll. Sweet tea. There was a lot, and it was hot. In a white to-go box, I sat on the street corner with my tiny packet of ketchup for the mound of potatoes and grease dripping down my hands from the juicy wings and breast. Price’s is a take-out establishment. It is also a cash-only establishment. I had none, but a very nice man named Victor offered to buy my lunch for me. He asked me to pay it forward. When I get the opportunity, I most certainly will.

Charlotte gets all the shows. And sometimes we must go to the music when the music does not come to us. This year that included Santigold and X Ambassadors at the Fillmore. The venue is bigger than I’m used to with the Orange Peel (and basically any other venues I elect to see concerts at), but you simply can’t discount it because they book everyone. It’s not a bad venue.





Louisville, Kentucky
Bourbon and horse racing are likely the most prominent associations with Louisville, Kentucky. I spent four days there and didn’t partake in either. Instead, I spent the time scouting high and low art; walking pedestrian bridges; chewing buttery modjeskas; browsing floors of collectibles and antiques; trying White Castle for the first time; stalking the graves of the fried chicken kingpin; and dancing at the Garth Brooks concert—the most entertaining show to which I’ve ever been!

Because food, beer, and coffee are the of course the most important, check out my recommendations for all things food and beverage. The map has many other places to eat and drink (coffee, beer, bourbon, and brandy) that I found during my research or that were recommended to me by our Airbnb hosts . It also has the things to do around town like walking the Big Four Bridge to Indiana, visiting Cave Hill Cemetery, checking out the Speed Art Museum on the campus of the University of Louisville (it’s free on Sundays); the Ohio River Greenway; and a few photo opps.

Eat & Drink
I don’t think the trip would have been nearly the success without Please and Thank You. They are famous for their chocolate chip cookies, but everything we put in our mouths from this trendy, little coffee shop exceeded expectations: the Spanish latte was sweet and silky; the iced miel latte was cinnamony. The carrot cake muffin, which they toasted to my delight, was spicy and rich. The breakfast sandwiches were perfection!

Modjeskas are lighter-than-store-bought marshmallow wrapped in buttery caramel. I chose to visit Muth’s Candies for our introduction to these delightfully airy sweets. The standouts of the small handful of treats we chose were the triple caramel (a candy made of a thin layer of caramel, chocolate caramel, and marshmallow) and the pecan modjeska. The pecans were fresh, and I immediately regretted not buying more of everything.

Indiana isn’t really know for it’s bbq, but we took a little jaunt across the river to check out Feast. The succulent ribs fell off the bone and the collards were noteworthy. But the piece de resistance of the meal were the tater tots topped with bbq, creamy slaw, and ketchup-based sweet bbq sauce.

Perhaps the best meal (and certainly the best beer) of the trip was Monnik. I went with two beers at different ends of the spectrum: the IPA and the King George ( an English brown). Both were drinkable enough to another  of each. The same with the burgers. After eating one, we decided we need another!

I’m not a huge fan of maple flavored food nor am I fan of adding bacon to everything—specifically baked goods, but Nord’s maple bacon bar converted me. The only reason I even ordered one was because every single mention of Nord’s (and there were many in my research) included nothing but the maple bacon bar. Upon eating my first bite, I got it. It was as if I were eating an entire breakfast in one bite. Beside Nord’s is Sunergos coffee, which reminds me of my favorite coffee shop in Asheville with its 1970s gold and orange comfy couches and chairs. The coffee was good and the shop was a perfect place to drink a latte, eat a doughnut, and read a bit while the sky spit a wintery mix of snow, ice, and rain in the middle of April.

No one needs a review of White Castle’s sliders, but what shocked me were their pre-packaged cake doughnuts. Upon seeing them, I promptly bought one of each (plain, chocolate, and powdered). I had a hunch, but as soon I smelled them, I knew they would whisk me back to childhood and eating the small Sweet Sixteen doughnuts by Merita. Next time I see a White Castle, I’m stocking up.

El Taco Luchador was a great, quick, cheapish lunch of tacos and guac. Excellent flavor in colorful surroundings. And a patio!

Our biggest (and really only) miss of the weekend was Against the Grain. We could tell quickly, from its location that this would be mediocre. At best. What they called pickles, we called vinegared vegetables. There wasn’t a cucmber on the plate. The food, beer, and service were all underwhelming and left us disappointed that we hadn’t chose better.


A Note About Garth Brooks
With nothing else to do Friday night, we decided on whim to see the Garth Brooks show. In fact, there were four Garth Brooks shows in Louisville while we were there. Two each night for two nights. After standing in the wind and rain waiting for the first show of the first night to let out and clear the crowd and after being told by a security guard that we were not allowed to get back in line once we got our tickets at willcall, we finally got to our seats and realized they were pretty damn good. We didn’t even have to leave our seat for drinks because there was a beer tent beside us. What were about to find out was that our seats were going to get so much better. Event staff came up to us and the people in front of us asking how the night was going and where we were from. He promptly handed us two tickets for the second row and escorted to our new seats. From our newly upgraded spot in the KFC Yum! Center, we were surrounded by crying girls who knew every word of every song the man sang; I was displayed on the Jumbotron throughout the concert; and we watched the most entertaining concert of my life.

Garth Brooks not only knows how to put on show, but he wants to put on a show. It is clear that he does it all for the fans, and he’s still happy to be on that stage. Furthermore, his band and back up singers are happy to be on that stage. The entire cast of characters has smiles on their faces right through the second encore at 1:30am. I found a wealth of respect for that man in Louisville on Friday night. Regardless of what one thinks about his music, one quickly realizes that show ain’t about the music, it’s about the performance. And damn what a performance it was!

Google Map with Things To Do, Eat, & Drink

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